If ever there was a motivational endorsement of everything good that came out of these past two weeks, it was voiced by Lancashire lass Sam Murray late on Sunday afternoon.
Surprisingly fresh from her silver medal performance at the Modern Pentathlon – the last event at the London 2012 Games – the 22-year-old University of Bath graduate confided in Clare Balding just what it takes to be an Olympian.
The determined Clitheroe athlete’s off-the-cuff speech – which couldn’t have been better if it was scripted – touched on how much you can achieve in a short space of time. In her case that involved a pentathlon-speed transition from A-levels to podium, underlining the strength of her message about reaching your goals in life, battling away your detractors, insisting a ‘normal girl’ can get there in the end. And who can argue with that sentiment?
Sunday was just the final day of a fortnight packed with such inspirational moments, and one in which it was also pleasing to hear our third boxing gold medallist – super- heavyweight Anthony Joshua – confirm his bid to remain amateur, for now at least.
So where did we leave the story last week? That seems a few podia away now, and those GB celebrations included three more medals on the track – Rob Grabarz’s high jump bronze, Christine Ohuruogu’s silver in the 400m (after another epic battle with supreme US talent Sanya Richards-Ross, lovingly dubbed ‘Princess Girl’ by my daughters), and Mo Farah’s stunning second gold.
One week on from Super Saturday and its triple gold haul for Jess Ennis, Farah and Greg Rutherford came a fantastic follow-up as Little Mo secured the 5,000m title and bantamweight boxer Luke Campbell also struck gold after a classic bout with Ireland’s John-Joe Nevin, on a day that started with an A1 K1 kayak sprint win for Ed McKeever.
That followed a further moment of sporting history as Nicola Adams took the woman’s flyweight crown, while welterweight Fred Evans secured a silver medal, and middleweight Anthony Ogogo a bronze.
Elswhere, there was Liam Heath and Jon Schofield’s K2 200m canoe sprint bronze, the same honour for Tom Daley in the 10m platform diving, gymnastics pommel horse silver for Louis Smith and bronze for Max Whitlock, Beth Tweddle’s bronze on the uneven bars, the same for the women’s hockey team, and Taekwondo gold for Jade Jones and bronze for Letalo Mohammad.
There was also plenty to savour in equestrianism, topped by dressage gold for Charlotte Dujardin and bronze for Laura Bechtolsheimer, team gold for the same riders with Carl Hester, and gold in the team jump for Scott Brash, Peter Charles, Ben Maher and Nick Skelton. And let’s not forget Andy Murray claiming gold and then silver with Laura Robson in the tennis at Wimbledon. Whatever next?
In a Games in which Team GB got going with Lizzie Armitstead’s silver in the women’s road race cycling, there was gold and bronze for Yorkshire too as the Brownlee brothers showed Northern grit in their first and third place finishes, Alistair winning and bro Jonny having to settle for third after a dramatic 15-second time penalty.
The action continued at the Velodrome with even more historic moments for Dave Brailsford’s top-notch track cyclists, ending with nine golds – including those in the keirin for old masters Chris Hoy and Vicky Pendleton and individual success for younger guns like Jason Kenny in the sprint and his significant other Laura Trott in the omnium.
Add to that Team GB’s sailors carrying on where the rowers left off, Ben Ainslie becoming our most successful Olympic sailor with his Finn gold, and silver in the men’s star (Percy & Simpson), men’s and women’s 470 (Patience & Bithell, Mills & Clark) and Nick Dempsey in the RS-X. Can’t say I would have had a clue what was going on even if I was paddling at Weymouth (or in a few of those events elsewhere if I’m honest), but there you go.
Quite a week really. That makes two in total, and for all those who might take up Morrissey’s argument about ‘blustering jingoism’, this was far more than a nationalist flag-waving exercise. Granted, it’s easy to generalise and see our dominance at Eton Dorney and the Velodrome track as a symbol of Rule Britannia and all things empirical. But amid the patriotic noises at all these venues there was voluminous support for all the other competing nations too.
That includes the respect shown to the Jamaican sprint fraternity, the US sprint sisterhood and emerging talents like Kenya’s 800m sensation David Rudisha, Grenada’s Kirani James in the 400m, tearful Dominican 400m hurdler Felix Sanchez, and Ugandan marathon man Stephen Kiprotich.
The same goes – in equal measure – for some of the many who overcame major hardships and obstacles to get there in the first place, not least South African paralympian Oscar Pistorius and Saudi Arabia’s first female Olympian Sarah Attar. For these two and many more Pierre de Coubertin’s statement that “The important thing is not to win, but to take part” rang true.
Meanwhile, the Dutch and German teams taught us a thing or two about total hockey, bronze medallists Canada and eventual champions the USA fought out a gripping advert for women’s football in their ‘soccer semi’ at Old Trafford, and there were so many other displays in a variety of sports that truly exemplified the Olympic spirit.
From Helen Glover and Heather Stanning’s rowing gold through to Sam Murray’s modern pentathlon silver it’s been a blast for Team GB and London 2012 as a whole. The locations were great, from the top of Box Hill and the country lanes of my old neck of the woods in Surrey through to Greenwich, Richmond, the Mall and Buck Palace, this was a tourist board’s dream.
In the build-up to these Games, with all its corporate branding and potential free-loading, a lot of us had misgivings and fears, lest we should be witnessing an event advertising the selective austerity UK of Cameron & Clegg, with added financial clout from FatCat Holdings. But while there were elements of that – as is the case with any event of such magnitude in this day and age – Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony set the right tone, and for a couple of weeks we could at least leave our political squabbles on the back-burner and dream, enjoying age-old values of sporting glory and participation, backed by an inspirational belief in all the good things about this island nation and its position of respect within the modern world.
Now of course comes the real crunch, as we watch and wait to see if the vast amounts of money made from London 2012 find their way back to the communities that were promised a long-term future by this great scheme at the planning stage.
A world party that’s cost around the £10 billion mark was backed by then-mayor Ken Livingstone in the hope that it would lead to major Government funding for the East End of London, in a similar way to that Manchester saw with its own redevelopment through the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Already we’ve heard Government rumblings which the more cynical might see as little more than lip service to soundbites (more PE on the national curriculum, safeguarded playing fields, etc.). Let’s just hope all this about lasting legacies and a boost to UK sport, volunteering and regeneration is not just blarney, and there’s some truth behind the talk.
The London 2012 Olympics saw real across-the-divide success, and made this blogger for one proud of the welfare state that helped hone those talents in the first place. Now we have to build on that and ensure that belief remains, and that doesn’t just mean through the £125 million annual pay-check for UK Sport.
Back on July 27th, internet guru Tim Berners-Lee told us from his keyboard at the Olympic Stadium opening ceremony, ‘This is for everyone’. Let’s make sure that remains the goal from here on in. I’ve been proud to be British these past couple of weeks, and I could get quite used to that.